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10 Unexpected Factors That Can Increase the Cost of Divorce

From where you live to delays along the way, there are surprising reasons why a divorce can get more expensive than you ever imagined.

What can increase the cost of divorce?

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Getting divorced can be very expensive. If you're looking into how much it costs to file for divorce, you're probably seeing a variety of numbers. What most won't tell you, though, is that there is not a standard price. Instead, it comes down to a variety of factors. Knowing the factors that cause a divorce to go up in price will give you a much better idea of what your own divorce might cost.

How Much Does a Divorce Cost?

The true cost of divorce is unusually hard to calculate. There are many factors that play a role in the overall cost, so simply asking “how much is a divorce?” will usually result in an attorney trying to hedge his or her bets. You'll need to know several factors to make an educated guess, which will, in turn, require asking questions like:

  • How much does it cost to get a divorce in your area?
  • How long does a divorce take most people in your circumstances?
  • Will I need to borrow money to make it through my divorce?

While there is certainly an average cost of divorce, figuring out how much it will cost you might be more difficult than you imagine.

1. Location

The first factor that's going to impact the cost of your divorce will be the location in which your divorce is taking place. Prices vary not only across the United States but even within states. It’s probably going to cost more to get divorced in a major city than in a small town, but places that don't have many divorce attorneys may end up with higher prices than those that have more competition. The cost of your divorce will always be directly impacted by the area in which you live.

It should be noted that this isn't always just because of supply and demand. In some cases, the cost of your divorce might be higher because the cost of filing paperwork and making it through the court system is simply higher. As you might imagine, this means that you're going to have to pay more out of pocket even if you do all the legwork on your own.

2. Using a Lawyer

Working with a lawyer always costs more up-front than not working with an attorney. Attorneys charge for their services, and you're going to pay a premium to get access to the legal acumen of even cheap divorce lawyers. The good news, though, is that working with a lawyer is almost always worth the cost. Remember, choosing not to work with a lawyer doesn't stop your spouse from choosing to get professional representation.

The good news, at least for most, is that the cost of using a lawyer is directly related to the complexity of a case and how much work the lawyer must do. If you have a relatively simple divorce, the overall cost of working with an attorney is fairly low. It is certainly worth it for the peace of mind that you'll get from knowing that you have a licensed legal professional on your side.

3. Children

Divorces tend to cost more as soon as they become more complex. There is absolutely nothing that complicates a divorce more than the inclusion of children. In many states, having children will make the divorce take longer – something that will almost automatically drive up the price. You may also be required to attend certain types of dispute resolution and you might even have to deal with specific custody hearings that are spaced out during a certain period. Each additional step that you are required to take will cost money.

Children also complicate things because people tend to spend more time trying to figure out their custody arrangements. As the disagreements pile up, the divorce will take longer. Every phone call and e-mail will cost you money, as will every appearance in court. The faster that the custody issues play out, the less money you will spend. In many cases, though, it's more than worth the money you spend to ensure that the best interests of your children.

4. Complex Property Issues

Complex property issues when getting a divorce.

If adding children to the mix tends to lead to the biggest costs, it's property issues that are the next in line. Dividing up marital property is rarely easy, especially when there is any kind of sentimental value attached to the property. Figuring out who gets how much of the overall marital property might be fairly cut and dry. However, figuring out who gets exactly what property can be incredibly complex. It's not uncommon for some issues to take months – or even years – to be decided.

Things get even more expensive when the complexity arises as a matter of law. Issues like joint ownership or inherited property can make it very difficult to divide up property in a fair manner. When it takes time to disentangle matters of ownership, lawyers will tend to charge even more. If either of the parties to the divorce puts up a fight when it comes to property disposition, there's a good chance that both parties will end up paying significantly more before the entire process has been concluded.

5. Fault

Some states won't let a couple get divorced for “irreconcilable differences.” Though these states make it much harder to get divorced. Unfortunately, the increased difficulty also makes it much more expensive because of the extra work that needs to be done to prove fault. The more hurdles the state puts in the way of finalizing the divorce, the more likely it is that any party involved will end up spending more money on the divorce proceedings.

The unfortunate truth here is that even those who work without attorneys will end up spending more money when they must prove fault. Other professional help might have to be engaged and both parties will certainly spend more time in court trying to prove each of their sides of the case. A fault-based divorce is an expensive and messy system. If you live in a fault-based divorce state, you should expect to see higher costs.

6. Business Ownership

If you own a business, you can expect a divorce to get much more expensive very quickly. Matters of ownership are incredibly complex, especially if you started the business after your marriage. Figuring out who owns what and, importantly, who will end up with the business after the divorce can be an incredibly complex process that might require the involvement of experts to figure out. As you might imagine, this can get very expensive very quickly.

Things get much more complex if you are only the partial owner. Things can be resolved quickly in some cases by selling off a business, but this isn't an option if you cannot sell off your interest or if your business partner is unwilling to purchase your share. Anything that makes the process more complex makes it more expensive and very few things are more complex that disposing of one's interest in a business.

7. Contesting the Divorce

The general uncontested divorce cost is significantly lower than the cost of a contested divorce. The average cost of divorce gets driven up significantly when one party or the other does not want to get divorced. This typically means that the divorce will have to move to a fault-based mode, which will be even more expensive than normal because one party is actively fighting against the proceedings. Again, this comes down to a matter of time being money – the longer you spend on the divorce, the more you will end up paying.

If you can answer the question of “how much does an uncontested divorce cost?” you can see a general baseline for what you should expect. A contested divorce, on the other hand, makes it impossible to make any reasonable predictions of costs. It could end in a few weeks or it might take several months. No matter the case, you'll end up paying more simply because you must go through a much more complex process.

8. Resolving Issues

Why do people get divorced? In many cases, it is because they have deep-seated issues that caused the end of the marriage. In some cases, people can put those issues aside long enough to bring the marriage to its legal end. In other cases, though, the parties see the divorce as a chance to air out their dirty laundry. If one party or the other decides to drag his or her feet or decides that the divorce process is an appropriate time to air grievances, you'll usually end up paying a bit more.

This is another matter that comes down to time. If one party is intentionally slowing things down, you'll end up spending more time in court and more time with your attorney. This, in turn, will cost you more money. It's an unfortunate truth that some parties attempt to purposefully slow down these proceedings by acting in an inappropriate manner in order to increase the financial burden of their former partners.

9. Strange Circumstances

When you ask about how much it costs to file for a divorce, the numbers that you are quoted will usually be based on the most common circumstances. They may include things like whether or not you have children, but most attorneys will admit that there are certain circumstances that can cause the cost of the divorce to balloon. There's not any single catch-all term for these costs, but they're all out of the ordinary.

There are a variety of factors that might make your divorce cost more. If you have a very complex pre-nuptial agreement, for example, you can expect to have your attorney spend time pouring over its contents. If you are looking to make sure that news of your divorce doesn't leak to the public, you should expect a higher cost. Even truly unique circumstances, like ownership of a race-horse or the publication rights to certain works, will end up costing you more money over the long-run.

10. Delays

There are, unfortunately, a variety of circumstances that can delay a divorce. One party or the other might get sick. Someone might have to travel for business. There might be delays at court or even delays with your attorney. When you do a quick search for “how long does a divorce take?” you're usually looking at figures that do not include any major delays. Unfortunately, it's impossible to tell if one of these delays will occur and, ultimately, how much one will end up costing you.

Every divorce is unique. Any combination of the factors above can cause the price to jump drastically. Sometimes, the cost of your divorce will come down to where you file and the lawyer you use. In other cases, though, the true cost won't be found out until you start meeting with the other party. No matter what happens, though, one thing remains true – working with an attorney is the only way to ensure that you get your best chance to get through your divorce in an equitable manner.